Re-iterating my belief in the importance of the writer as the centre of the theatre experience let's begin with those productions of plays that impressed.
In the Sydney theatre going experience it is interesting to me to see how the new Australian work is what dominated my pleasurable responses. In no particular order:
THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING. Adapted by Richard Tulloch from the novel by Guus Kuljer. A wonderful production for both children and adults from Belvoir B Company and Theatre of Image. Beautiful design by Kim Carpenter, directed by Neil Armfield in his usual subtle way with great performances from all, particularly Matthew Whittet, Julie Forsyth, Yael Stone, Deborah Kennedy.
LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway. A complicated use by Mr Holloway of the Greek story of Iphigenia at Aulis in context of the contemporary Australian psyche and landscape. In an over elaborate intellectual and once again theatre design as “art installation” approach to the production by Matthew Lutton, his five actors delivered thrilling and gripping performances. Luke Hewitt, Belinda McClory, Kris McQuade, Arky Michael, Colin Moody. Again at Belvoir Theatre.
BANG by Jonathan Gavin. This was presented in the Downstairs Belvoir Theatre by White Box Theatre and B Sharp. This was the Best new Australian play of the year. Wonderfully written by Jonathan Gavin and meticulously directed by Kim Hardwick. The cast of six actors playing many roles over the duration of the play also gave the best example of ensemble acting on Sydney stage this year (and that includes the marvellous Steppenwolf, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY) : Blazey Best, Caroline Brazier, Ivan Donato, Damian Rice, Wendy Strehlow and particularly Tony Poli in a set of dazzlingly judged nuanced choices in his many characters across nationalities, age and sexes.
QUACK by Ian Wilding presented in the Griffin season at the SBW Stables Theatre. In outrageous stylistic choices the director Chris Mead led us through contemporary political allegory/satire in the guise of the present day trendy storytelling mode of the Zombie thriller. Beautifully designed, set by William Bobbie Stewart and very complicated costumes, the four actors took us through a breathless adventure of crazy comedy both literate and physical: Chris Haywood, Jeanette Cronin, Charlie Garber and introducing spectacularly the talents of Aimee Horne in a leading role.
THE SAPPHIRES by Tony Briggs. This was a revival production by Black Swan and Belvoir Company B at the Seymour Centre directed by Wesley Enoch. It went onto an international tour. I had a great time and just loved the seamless flow of the production and the tireless commitment of all the company. It was a surprise evening of joy.
WINTER'S DISCONTENT by William Zappa at the Darlinghurst Theatre. Another revival production. Both the writing and the performance by Mr Zappa was worth admiring greatly. It was the first time that I had caught this work – I'm glad I did.
NAMATJIRA by Scott Rankin, presented by Belvoir B Company with Big hART at Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs. Although the writing was fairly straightforward narration, the content and its revelations were impactful and impressive. Culturally necessary (for me). The production beautiful to look at and co-directed by Scott Rankin and Wayne Blair. The two performers Trevor Jamieson and Derek Lynch seductive in their storytelling skills.
ANGELA'S KITCHEN by Paul Capsis, Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell, presented at the SBW Stables Theatre for the GRIFFIN Theatre. The writing, relatively, the weakest part of the work is propelled into a transcendent experience by the finely judged gift of a performance by Paul Capsis, and sensitive direction by Julian Meyrick. It looked great too. Another important cultural experience: instructive and moving.
RICHARD III by William Shakespeare presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company in the new Sumner Theatre. Shakespeare meets WEST WING!!!! This was probably the best production of Australian Shakespeare I have ever seen. Directed by Simon Phillips with a great set by Shaun Gurton and costumes by Esther Marie Hayes, the company was lead brilliantly by Ewan Leslie as Richard III with great support by Jennifer Hagan (Queen Margaret), Alison Whyte (Queen Elizabeth), Deidre Rubinstein (Duchess of York), Zahra Newman (Catesby) and Humphrey Bower (Buckingham). Well worth the trip to Melbourne.
On the chance that I will repeat myself, some performances that I was glad to have seen:
- Matthew Whittet in THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING by Richard Tulloch (Belvoir Company B).
- Susie Porter in THAT FACE by Polly Stenham (Belvoir Company B)
- The ensemble led by Wendy Hughes, William Zappa, Yael Stone and Paula Arundell in HONOUR by Joanna Murray-Smith (Sydney Theatre Company).
- Nathan Lovejoy in WAY TO HEAVEN by Juan Mayorga (Griffin Independent).
- Jeanette Cronin in BUG by Tracey Letts, (Griffin Independent).
- Ewen Leslie in RICHARD III by William Shakespeare, (Melbourne Theatre Company).
- Zoe Carides in THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov, (Siren Theatre Company and Sidetrack).
- Zindzi Okenyo in ORESTEIA adapted by Tom Wright (The Residents, Sydney Theatre Company).
- Anita Hegh and Marta Dusseldorp in LIKE A FISHBONE by Anthony Weigh (Sydney Theatre Company).
- Trevor Ashley in I'M EVERY WOMAN – a cabaret performance at (The Studio, Sydney Opera House).
- Melissa Jaffer and Sue Ingleton in GWEN IN PURGATORY by Tommy Murphy (Belvoir Company B.)
- William Zappa in WINTER'S DISCONTENT by William Zappa (Darlinghurst Theatre).
- Aimee Horne in QUACK by Ian Wilding. (Griffin Theatre Company).
- Ashley Ricardo in THE PIGEONS by David Giselmann (Griffin Independent).
- Brent Hill and Andrea Demetriades in TWELFTH NIGHT by William Shakespeare (Bell Shakespeare at the Playhouse, Sydney Opera House).
- Paul Capsis in ANGELA'S KITCHEN by Paul Capsis, Julian Meyrick and Hilary Bell (Griffin Theatre.)
- Jane Phegan and Kym Vercoe in THE MARKET IS NOT FUNCTIONING PROPERLY by Version 1.0 (B Sharp, Belvoir).
- Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Anthony Phelan in UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov (Sydney Theatre Company).
- The ensemble in LOVE ME TENDER by Tom Holloway: Luke Hewitt, Belinda McClory, Kris McQuade, Arky Michael, Colin Moody (Belvoir Company B and Thinice).
- The ensemble in BANG by Jonathan Gavin: Blazey Best, Caroline Brazier, Ivan Donato, Tony Poli, Damian Rice, Wendy Strehlow.
- Kim Carpenter for THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING.
- William Bobbie Stewart for set and costumes for QUACK.
- Mark Thompson for set and costume for BANG.
- Shaun Gurton for set; costumes by Esther Marie Hayes for RICHARD III.
- Genieve Dugard for set; costumes Tess Schofield for NAMATJIRA.
- Louise McCarthy for ANGELA'S KITCHEN.
- Eamon Dárcy for set design; and the digital artists,Robert Klaesi,Tracey Taylor, Frantz Kantor and Digital Pulse for HAIRSPRAY.
- Paul Jackson for THE TELL TALE HEART.
- Luiz Pampolha for TWELFTH NIGHT.
- Martin Kinnane for BANG.
- Nick Schlieper for RICHARD III.
- Verity Hampson for ANGELA'S KITCHEN (and much else!).
- Steve Francis for BANG.
- Ian McDonald for RICHARD III.
- Genevieve Lacey and Jim Atkins for NAMATJIRA.
- Paul Charlier and Steve Toulmin for TWELFTH NIGHT.
Directors I admired:
- Neil Armfield for THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING.
- Kim Hardwick for BANG. I caught her production A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG as well.
- Simon Phillips for RICHARD III.
- Chris Mead for QUACK.
- Julian Meyrick for ANGELA'S KITCHEN.
- David Atkins for HAIRSPRAY.
- Lee Lewis for THAT FACE; HONOUR; TWELFTH NIGHT (The actors who worked with her seemed to be released in a way by her to reveal some of their best work).
- David Williams for his work with VERSION 1.0.
Interesting newer directorial artists, that have stayed with me :
- Michael Pigott for The dysFUnCKshonalZ (Darlinghurst Theatre) and other work across a range of genres and theatre companies, this year.
- Paige Rattray for BRONTE.(ATYP).
International work that I admired this year:
- WAR HORSE by Nick Stafford adapted from the novel by Michael Morpungo for the National Theatre, London and Handspring Puppet Company. Do not miss it if you have the opportunity- a mighty moving experience of a story, enhanced with truly magical puppetry and the full creative and technical powerhouse of the National Theatre.
- EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR by Tom Stoppard with music by Andre Previn. A fantastic game with words and complex ideas complicated lucidly with a full orchestral score. A text that requires great verbal technique and physical dexterity from the company of actors that made a short 65 minute experience in the theatre an EPIC of great impact. Subtle and brilliant. Directed by Felix Barrett and Tom Morris for the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, London.
- THE PITMAN PAINTERS by Lee Hall. Presented at the National Theatre, London with Live Theatre, Newcastle directed by Max Roberts. This play has a fairly old fashioned storytelling writing technique that has the “feel good” of say the recent film THE KINGS SPEECH, and that with a crack team of actors, lifts the evening into a life enhancing experience.
- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY by Tracey Letts. The Sydney Theatre Company introduced the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company from Chicago and this highly appreciated and well toured production. I found the play mostly soap opera, saved by a last act of some more depth, that was still necessary to see, because of the brilliance of the ensemble acting. These actors were an exemplar in attuned support for each other and the play. (The difference between the ensemble of the Sydney Theatre Company's UNCLE VANYA and OSAGE ...was palpable. It, of course takes practice and time, and trust). Lessons to absorb.
- THE SHIPMENT presented by Young Jean Lee's Theatre Company, of New York by the Sydney Opera House at the Playhouse. This was an astringent “Review” that was scoldingly funny and confronting. Not only was the material “HOT” to deal with and electric as far as race issues were concerned, but the stylistic skill of the performers was also note worthy for its ensemble dexterity. More lessons to absorb.
- I admired the acting of Michael Urie (you may know him from TV series, UGLY BETTY) in a small-scale play called THE TEMPERAMENTALS by Jon Maras in New York. The best performance for me on Broadway was given by Norbert Leo Butz as Jeffery Skilling in the ill fated Broadway production of Lucy Prebble's play ENRON, followed by the ensemble of the Wooster Theatre Company, particularly Ari Fliakos as N.I. Roscoe Chizzum in a revival of a very old work in their repertoire, NORTH ATLANTIC.
- To finish off, I should say that Sheridan Smith who plays the Legal Blonde in LEGALLY BLONDE at the Savoy in London was fabulous. Maybe my favourite Musical Theatre performer of the year.
The Australian Chamber Orchestra kept me very happy all year, My favourite concert was the BORODIN QUARTET, Shostakovitch concert presented by Musica Viva early in the year.
The little dance that I saw this year was mostly uninteresting, although I loved the Sydney Festival production of GISELLE by Fabulous Beast and HAPPY AS LARRY by Shaun Parker and Company at Carriageworks.
My last note is to note the relative lack of work coming out of the Performance Space this year. I miss the range and content of recent years programming. Maybe 2011 will be different.
Now into 2011… P.S. I have not yet seen THE DIARY OF A MADMAN.......will try soon.